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Drugs may 'obliterate' certain breast cancers in 10 years - surgeon


Jill Murphy was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Jill Murphy was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Jill Murphy was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26. Photo: Steve Humphreys

A leading Irish surgeon believes Her2 positive breast cancer may be treatable with drugs within 10 years - while new blood research could eventually help prevent cancer from recurring.

Professor Arnie Hill, a general breast and endocrine surgeon at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said surgery may not be necessary for patients who are Her2 positive within a decade.

Her2 positive cancer accounts for about 20pc of breast cancers, Prof Hill said, and currently the drugs used in 50pc of cases "obliterate the tumour".


However, for many, the disease returns. "The drugs can evaporate the cancer, that's where we're at," Prof Hill said. "We're working hard to target other pathways, but that's the group we're making a real difference in.

"Patients might not be operated on and rather may hopefully be treated with drugs in around 10 years. Eventually, we'll make Her2 positive into a chronic disease and more women will survive."

Currently, around 15pc of Her2 positive patients will develop metastatic disease - meaning the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.

While the treatment options for patients where this disease has spread are successful for some, for many patients the disease recurs. Prof Hill, who is also chair of surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and at Breast Cancer Ireland (BCI), said: "We've also identified a marker that's expressed in the bloodstream that predicts if cancer will return, and we're hoping we can stop it happening.

"It's in discovery phase at the moment."

S100Beta is a protein which, if found in high levels in the blood, can alert if cancer is likely to return.

Scientists have been testing drugs to block signals linked to the protein and have found tumours have reduced.

"It (S100Beta) has a way of predicting early recurrence of breast cancer - we think it has potential," Prof Hill said.

It comes as patients speak out today on World Cancer Day.

Jill Murphy (28) was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a double mastectomy and her eggs frozen.

She had been a gym goer, who loved to look her best.

Like most young women her age, she didn't place too much emphasis on the future. But the wellness worker from Killiney has endured the toughest year of her life and has managed to come out the other end stronger and reflective about life.

As part of World Cancer Day Jill reminded all young women to examine their breasts regularly for lumps and to be mindful of any symptoms, such as tiredness, indicators that something could be wrong.


"In 2018, I found a lump around April or May," Jill said. "I got it checked with a GP, but I was 26 at the time, so I didn't think cancer would affect me.

"But I was also feeling really tired. I was a gym-goer and I ate really well, so it didn't make sense why I was so tired.

"I almost didn't ask my GP to check the lump, as I was feeling embarrassed about it. I felt silly, due to my age. It was literally towards the end of the appointment, when I asked if she could check the lump."